In the beginning was the Word. John 1:1
Shit! Did I tell you to find someone who knew god? Or did I give you a specific list that did not include anything about knowing god? He’s not going to like you.
Alright, she’s not going to like you. She’s going to interfere. She could hurt you badly. You’re young and I’m new here. We’re still feeling our way.
Yes, I know I said I needed help. But some kinds of help are no help at all.
Yes, he did say that contention was a necessary part of the world. I just think that we’ll get enough of that coming at us from outside. We don’t need to invite it in.
Well, if she’s dead already, you might as well bring her through. It’s going to be difficult. We can’t lie to these people.
Yes, but sometimes lying is all that keeps one person from hating another. I don’t think she’s going to like me. Did you follow the list with the others?
Well, that’s good. How many? Well, that’s two more than we strictly need, so maybe that will be all right. I’m not that good with people, though. If the others like her better and she kicks up a fuss, they may not help at all.
Yes, you are lovely. I’m sure once they know you, they’ll love you. As much as you need. It’s just that knowing you will require the slow building of a bridge of information. You’re not like anything they know.
A bridge? Let me think how to explain that, for a minute. Yes, bring her through while I think.
Yes. All the way. Just like we planned. Make sure she wakes up last, though.
Yes, I love you. How could I not? You’re going to be exactly what I want.
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1
If you had asked Edwin Carlisle yesterday what his future would be like, he would have said that everything was rosy. Of course he would have mentally translated ‘future’ into career. Maybe not in so many words, but his work life would have been what he was thinking about while he was thinking ‘future’.
Today was completely different. Today it all felt hollow. He still remembered all the projects, all the triumphs, all the buildings, streets, and bridges that were there because of him, because he could make things happen were others got bogged down in other people’s objections. He remembered them and he remembered being proud of them, enjoying them, exulting in them. He could even remember the rest of the cycle: the urge to take weeks off and relax, the basking in the glow of success, the catching up with other parts of his life outside the project, followed by the little restlessnesses, the growing dissatisfaction with family and friends that meant it was time to find another project.
The best projects were the ones that everyone said were doomed.
Now Ed just wanted to let doomed things lie. And, feeling like a doomed thing himself, he was lying out in his orchard. His home was just far enough into the city for a private orchard to be an indulgence. It was a hobby. It helped him work off steam while his mind chewed through problems. It provided home-grown, organic fruit and nuts for gifts. He had loved it. He had gone there hoping that it would cheer him. But, the trees may as well have been rotting stumps.
Missy was dead. It was stupid to be reacting this way. He had known it was coming. There were people that he could call, but he was in mid-project. It always took awhile to talk people back into liking him again after he entered full-on, blow-them-off project mode. It just seemed too much trouble to go through. Everything seemed to be too much trouble.
It was a pity he couldn’t starve himself to death in a single night. He couldn’t imagine ever eating again, could barely imagine having the energy to stand up. Poor Missy. He would always wonder if she had known it was coming.
He began to think about sharp tools and feeding the trees with his blood. Missy had liked the trees. She had eaten the fruit with gusto. He couldn’t think of any tools close to hand that were smooth enough. A pruning saw just wouldn’t do.
It wasn’t quite winter, yet, and it wasn’t quite dark, either. The moist warmth of the well-composted ground was sending up mist into the evening air. There would be a tule fog tonight. Probably not enough of one to reach up to the highway, but the local roads would be hazardous to drive.
Ed thought about driving into something in the fog. He couldn’t think of anywhere where that would be definitely fatal, without involving another car. He couldn’t do that. That would be cowardly and selfish.
He thought about his toes. His arms and legs were spread out like a paper doll. That’s how he felt. Dry and lifeless, strung hand to hand with a line of other people exactly like him. He was endlessly replaceable. What clothes was he wearing? Would he care later that they were wrinkled and muddy? Would he ever care about anything again?
He remembered lying out in a field like this when he was young. He had lain out at night and imagined that he was looking down, instead of up, that he could fall into the dark and the stars and fly. Now it was all misty and cold and it felt like gravity had been turned up to two or three times its normal intensity. He could feel the meat hanging from his bones. It was a good thing the ground was there, to hold it up, or it would droop until it fell off.
This was no way to be. There were guns. He knew people who had them. He’d remember who they were soon. Eventually, he’d have the energy to stand up and get a gun. Going on like this forever just couldn’t be borne. It was okay to be miserable, now that he knew that it would stop. Maybe not tonight. Tonight he was too cold and tired. He’d had a shock. But shocks wore off. He’d have enough energy soon.
Maybe if he slept, he’d wake up and remember who had a gun. Someone who worked all day, so he could break a window and get it and not have to talk to anyone or let anyone see him. Letting anyone see him would be a bad idea. He had to look like hell. His eyes felt heavy and sunken. Maybe they had pushed back in his head too far to be seen. That would set anyone looking at him off. They’d ask him where his eyes were and while he was explaining, he’d make a mistake and talk about the gun. Then they’d lock him up and he’d be miserable forever.
Ed turned his head to look at his hand. It looked like a normal hand, in the fading light. Through the mist he saw mushrooms pushing up through the dirt just beyond his fingers. Were they moving that fast, or was he just thinking that slowly? They were unfolding in droves. No, not droves, there were only a dozen or so.
Ed turned his head further. They were in an arc. With as much plan-reading as he did, the geometry was obvious. The mushrooms were rising in a ring around him. What was the story about fairy rings? All Ed could think of were stories about fairies that opened cracks in the earth under barrows, places of the dead. What did those fairies do? Ed couldn’t remember. Something about aging, or living a hundred years underground in a week. He didn’t want to live that long. There was no way he could bear a week.
The mushrooms crowded in around him and he felt himself sinking into the ground. No. He needed to be able to get up later and get the gun. Ed started to weep, more tears that he believed could come out of him. They were warm until they got into his ears, where they cooled enough to be sticky. Maybe the salt in them would kill the mushrooms. Maybe he just needed to cry harder and he’d be free.
Ed started to sob. He pulled again and again and finally pulled one arm free. The back of it was covered with pithy white hairs. Where the hairs entered, he could feel nothing.
Okay. Numb was good. Maybe the mushrooms would eat him and he’d never have to stand up again. After that, someone had better come and till the mushrooms into the soil, to let the soil dry out. Soil that wet and fungus-ridden had to be bad for the trees. It was nice to feel concerned about the trees again. Ed let his arm fall back. It wasn’t just the mushrooms coming up, he was definitely sinking down into the dirt.
That would be convenient. That would outdo Uncle Buster. Dad had always been proud of Uncle Buster. Uncle Buster had been retired when he died and Dad always wanted to go out just like him. Buster had had a garden, rather than an orchard, and he had pottered in it every day. He took his wheelbarrow out, pottered in his garden, then tipped the wheelbarrow up and sat back in the shade of it to nap before pottering a little more and pushing the wheelbarrow back up to the house.
One day a neighbor noticed that Buster had been napping for most of the day and went over to check. Sure enough, Buster had died, right there in the garden. When the ambulance came, the overgrown driveway had been too wet for a gurney to push through, so they had just tipped Buster’s wheelbarrow up and used it to haul him down to the street. Neat and efficient. Dad had approved.
Dad had only managed to die in his sleep between the time that his wife had gotten up and the time that the coffee was ready. Now Ed was out-doing Buster. He would disappear completely, not only ready-laid-out, but ready-buried. He didn’t believe that he was going where Missy was. He could have been happy believing that, but he didn’t. This wasn’t going to be joy, only relief, and just a little hint of triumph at finally beating Dad at something.
Odd that he’d be thinking that. Dad had never accomplished much of anything. Odd that he’d feel like this was the first time . . . well, maybe he’d think about that some other time. Or maybe there was no time. The mist was thick. Ed wasn’t sure if he was seeing fog or mycelium covering his eyes. Mycelium: that was the name of the roots of mushrooms. Not roots, exactly - those underground tendrils were the main part of the mushroom. The parts above ground were the fruiting bodies.
Ed chuckled as his sight dimmed and he felt a whisper of moving dryness in his nose. He was going to be a fruiting body in an orchard. He was ready to let go. He hoped all his parts would be useful. Missy couldn’t find him and worry. She wouldn’t be alone. She was gone.
He hoped someone would take good care of the trees.
That one looks good. I wasn’t expecting him to want to die. No, that’s all right. Do him first. The first one will be riskiest, and if he wants to die, that’s like permission to take the risk.
Yes, he might still want to die. We may have to let him. Yes, that makes two unsuitable ones. They might all be unsuitable one way or another. We just have to deal with what we have, now.
I think you did really well, all things considered. Should I tell you now that the Book Man didn’t think you’d be able to do this at all? Would that make you nervous?
No, I don’t think you should be nervous. I think you’re wonderful and can do more than the Book Man suspects. Of course you need to remember to listen to me. I’m also more wonderful than the Book Man suspects.
Yes, I’ve surprised him before. I intend to surprise him again. I intend for both of us to surprise him, over and over.
That would be nice, yes, if the others could surprise him, too. I don’t think we should show them to him too soon, though.
Do you need to rest? No? All right. Pull him almost all the way through. Then let him rest. It looks like he needs to rest. I remember the anatomy. You need to keep the function intact. Yes I know it’s complicated, but you’re wonderful. And I remember it all. At least, I hope I remember enough.
Pull through as much moisture and structure as you need. They’ve given us more than enough. Now pay attention. I know it’s hard. Don’t stop at the wrong time or he’ll die. There’s my good girl.